Dan River spill hits too close to home

Feb. 16, 2014 @ 12:16 AM

Not to alarm anyone about the impact of the recent coal ash spill into the Dan River, which feeds directly into Kerr Lake, but I do want to report on the changing tone in recent reports.

Early this past week, headlines were “Officials say Kerr Lake safe to drink” after reports that 82,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the lake through a 48-inch pipe that ran under the storage pit where the sludge was stored.

When the pipe corroded, it allowed all this toxic ash to enter the river. A mention was made of three recent lawsuits that were effectively halted by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Then Wednesday the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services issued an advisory warning people not to come in contact with water near the spill site.

No mention of how close “near” is was indicated. While one arm’s length might be near to some people, 50 miles is “near” to me. This spill was identified as the third largest of its kind in U.S. history.

Then Friday reports surfaced of a federal criminal investigation being launched by the U.S. Attorney’s Office involving Duke Energy and the NCDENR.

The story hinted at collusion — or an official criminal investigation of a suspected felony being conducted by a U.S. and federal grand jury — between regulators and regulated regarding this spill.

As a side note, our governor worked for Duke Energy for 28 years before retiring and running for office in 2008.

Despite recent lawsuits, Duke Energy let a giant pool of toxic mess set atop of a rusty pipe that dumps directly into the Dan River. That is negligence to a high degree. And now we are getting indications that our state regulators may have done more than just look the other way. They might actually have colluded with big money.

My weekly column is about fishing and I’ve intentionally stayed away from political or other subjects not involving the outdoors. This is fishing related. We may end up suffering for many years due to what appears to be at best criminal negligence, and at worst felonious collusion and sweetheart deals between government officials and big energy.

From here on I will let the writers that focus on this type of thing do the reporting on it, and I will keep my focus on fishing, at least as long as there are fish left in Kerr Lake.

Switching gears to more positive stuff, Chris Bullock, a well-known Kerr Lake catfish and crappie guide, took me out fishing for giant blue catfish last Sunday. This was part of my research for a magazine article to be published this fall, and we had a great day on the water.

While we didn’t catch any big ones, we did land eight good keepers. Chris kept a 30-pounder he’d caught Saturday alive in a tank so that we could take photos. We released that big one, but I kept four good-sized ones for eating.

Back last summer while stopped for gas near Madison on the way home from a weekend of fishing on Kerr Lake, two elderly ladies also getting gas asked whether I’d caught any fish.

“Oh yes,” we said, as fishing had been great that weekend. She asked what we did with them and I told her they were released alive. She exclaimed we should have kept them and brought her some. Telling her that if I’d known she wanted some I surely would have, she gave me her phone number and we left with a promise to bring her some fish.

Six months later I called Annie Ellington and her sister and asked if she was still interested in fresh fish.

“Whoooweeeee” she said. So I carried her some fresh blue cat filets and she gave me some slices of delicious chocolate cake. Life doesn’t get any better than that.

Kerr Lake fishing report – Folks are catching big blue cats using cut shad, crappie and white perch. Look for marks on your depth finder on points in small creeks off Butcher Creek, then anchor down and fish on the bottom. Be prepared for a giant, as Kerr currently holds the world record at 143 pounds.

Upcoming area tournaments – My first tournament of the year was delayed until next Sunday, Feb. 23 due to inclement weather. With the warm spell forecast for this week, the big bass there should be biting well as they feed up for the spring spawn.

Next week’s report – Presidents Day report from Walnut Cove and fishing on Belews Creek Lake.

Tip of the week — Anchor down versus drifting when fishing for cats in water colder than 50 degrees as they are very slow to bite. A bait sitting still will get more attention than one passing by.

Contact the writer by email at waltbowen@yahoo.com, on Facebook under Walt Bowen, and on Twitter at @WaltBowen.